The Freedom Foundation on Friday won yet another round in its fight to inform family childcare providers in Washington state of their right to opt out of union participation.
Less than a month after ruling against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 in a dispute over whether the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) could release the names of home healthcare providers to the Freedom Foundation, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Erik Price on Friday rejected SEIU 925's request for a preliminary injunction that sought to halt the Freedom Foundation's use of another batch of names and force the organization to return information it has already obtained.
In denying the union's motion, Price signaled it was unlikely to prevail on the merits of the case when—and if—the lawsuit is actually heard in court.
No date has been set for that hearing yet.
"Once again, we're trying to get the truth out while the union bosses are spending the members' own dues money to keep them in the dark," said Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe. "And once again, the judge isn't letting them get away with it."
Unlike the DSHS case, however, where the Freedom Foundation had filed a public disclosure request for the names but hadn't yet received them, the Department of Early Learning (DEL) two months ago turned over the complete list of more than 11,000 family childcare providers.
SEIU 925's court action demanded the list either be returned or destroyed.
Instead, a day after SEIU filed its preemptive request for an injunction, the Freedom Foundation last week went ahead and sent an email and letter to everyone on the DEL list anyway, advising them of their right to abstain from paying money to a union.
"We've already heard from dozens of people who want to opt out, and it's only been a week," McCabe said. "We fully expect people to leave in droves, which explains why the unions are fighting tooth and nail to keep their members from knowing the truth."
The struggle comes as a result of last summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn. In that case, the court decreed that home healthcare workers in Illinois were not full-fledged state employees and could not be forced to join a union as a condition of employment.
For the most part, local union leaders concede the Harris v. Quinn decision also applies to similar providers in Washington, but they're understandably reluctant to inform members of their newly acknowledged right to opt out.
Consequently, the Freedom Foundation—a nonprofit, nonpartisan Olympia think tank—this past July submitted to the state a series of public disclosure requests for the names of the affected workers.
"Altogether, there are around 45,000 people represented by SEIU in Washington doing this sort of work," explained Max Nelsen, the Freedom Foundation's labor policy analyst. "We're talking about people who, in many cases, are simply being subsidized by Medicaid for taking care of a disabled family member.
"These people were given no choice about whether they wanted to financially support the union, and many of them don't want to," he said. "Now they have the opportunity to opt out, and our goal is to inform them of their rights and let them decide for themselves how to respond. But the union doesn't want them to know the truth because it stands to lose millions of dollars in dues."
"The union's lawyers tried to convince the judge—and the providers—that we're trying to make money with the names, or that we'll invade the privacy of the people they're caring for," said Freedom Foundation General Counsel James Abernathy. "But the judge in the earlier lawsuit didn't buy that argument, and our actions with this second list of names prove we always had the best interests of the members in mind—unlike the union.
"Our goal is simply to inform the workers of their legal rights under Harris v. Quinn," he said. "The union's goal is to keep the truth from them. If SEIU was actually providing a service its members considered worth paying for, it would have nothing to fear from them understanding their rights. Obviously the union feels it has something to hide."